The Florida Senate passed new legislation that could increase protections for vulnerable elderly people from exploitation and abuse.
Senate Bill 232 was sponsored by state Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, and was designed to allow the prosecution of those who take advantage of vulnerable seniors, a crime that has steadily been on the rise in Florida, according to FBI data.
The bill defines exploitation of the elderly as obtaining or using, through intimidation or deception, the property of a person over the age of 65, either temporarily or permanently.
Under the bill, depriving an elderly or disabled person of their property, benefits, or honest services, would carry with it a range of felony offenses. If the amount of theft was over $50,000, the penalty could be a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The bill also says that not knowing a person was over the age of 65 is not a defense.
Prosecution for bribing, abusing, or intimidating an elderly or disabled person to gain their property, including interfering with an elderly person’s last will and testament, according to Florida law, must be commenced within five years of the crime taking place.
However, if fraud was involved in the crime, the prosecution can happen up to five years after the fraud was discovered.
Those who know or suspect the potential abuse or fraud of an elderly or disabled person would be required to report it to the Department of Children and Family Services through its hotline.
Medical professionals, banks and financial institutions, professional care providers, and investment advisors are specifically mentioned in the bill as the professionals that would be responsible for reporting any suspicious activity related to potential fraud or abuse.
If abuse or fraud is not reported by anyone who has knowledge of such offenses, they could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. Those who have been previously convicted in any state or foreign country of exploiting elderly or disabled adults would be prohibited from acting as personal advocates or representatives.
According to the 2021 FBI Elder Fraud Report, Florida is ranked second in the U.S. in fraud victims over 60 years, with total losses equating to over $220 million. The report states that one in 10 elderly Americans are victims of some sort of fraud, with the average amount per victim being approximately $18,000.
The report also states that pension and financial trends are adding to the problem, as the elderly are now responsible for their own retirement savings, and many of them take on student debt for their children and grandchildren.
At the bill’s passage, state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said in a news release that the bill’s sponsor, Garcia, was a champion for Florida’s seniors.
"Our seniors built the thriving communities that have made our state a beacon of hope and prosperity known around the world. As they live out their golden years, they deserve to age with dignity, with our respect and support…This strong legislation will help keep more of our elders safe, with strong penalties for those criminals who steal and take advantage of those who are up in age." Passidomo said.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here